We’re amidst one of the worst wildfire seasons ever—temperature records are breaking, people are being displaced, and communities are being destroyed.
Perhaps you live in a wildfire zone and are lucky enough to stay at home; you still need to protect yourself—from wildfire smoke.
Today, we’re breaking down what wildfire smoke is, why it’s harmful, and what you can do to prepare and reduce its impact on your health.
With more months to go this season, and sadly more wildfires to come in the future, it’s time to be proactive.
What is wildfire smoke?
Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other materials. According to one lung expert, an hour of exposure to wildfire smoke is equivalent to smoking cigarettes continuously for the same amount of time. In other words, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Why is wildfire smoke harmful?
Of all the pollutants in wildfire smoke, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) poses the greatest risk to human health.
The microscopic soot particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, where they may cause inflammation and irritation. Volatile organic compounds and other gases can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
Who is at greatest risk?
Everybody responds to smoke differently. Due to age and health conditions, some people are at higher risk of experiencing health effects than others. Here is a list of folks vulnerable to wildfire smoke:
- People with pre-existing chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and diabetes
- Women who are pregnant
- Infants and small children
- Elderly people
With this said, healthy people are not immune to the effects of wildfire smoke. Listen to your body and reduce your exposure if the smoke is impacting you.
What are some signs of wildfire health effects?
Symptoms could be quite mild, or they could be very severe. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your body is likely reacting to wildfire smoke:
- Burning eyes
- Runny nose
- Coughing and wheezing
- Scratchy throat
- Difficulty breathing
And for those with previous heart conditions, you may also experience:
- Chest pain
As we said before, listen to your body—stay inside if you’re experiencing these symptoms!
How do I know that the air quality is poor?
It’s essential to keep an eye on your local air quality during wildfire season. Luckily, we all have access to resources that can evaluate it for us. There are two air quality ratings you should look out for: air quality index (AQI) and air quality health index (AQHI).
AQI is used to communicate how polluted the air is or how polluted it is forecast to become. Ratings are from 0-100—the higher the number, the more polluted the air is.
The subsequent rating you should know is AQHI. This rating reflects the sum of health risks from each of the pollutants on the index. It’s measured from 0-10—as the number rises, public health risks increase.
You can rely on your local government, or third-party apps such as Air Bubbles, for real-time air quality maps. The weather app on your phone should also provide updated ratings. Or, you can purchase your own air quality tracker.
How can I prepare and protect myself from wildfire smoke?
It’s never too late to take measures towards protecting you and your family. While you can’t control temperature, weather, air quality, and natural hazards, you can control how you prepare and respond to them.
Here are a few things you can do to stay safe during wildfire season:
- Keep an emergency kit on hand, which includes KN95 respiratory masks. These are very effective for filtering out those harmful wildfire particles.
- Purchase air purifiers for your home. Block off outside air and turn on your air purifiers to remove pollutants. We recommend the Wynd Max Room Air Purifier—which can purify a room up to 1200 square feet.
- When you’re in transit, bring a portable air purifier with you. We spend so much time in our cars—it’s crucial to create your own bubble of clean air, wherever you go!
Got more questions on wildfires? We have answers! For more information, take a look at our Wildfire Safety Kit.